Tunisia: Draft Law on Criminalisation of Offences against Sacred Values
16 Aug 2012
In this analysis, ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Tunisian Constituent Assembly to reject the Draft Law on the Amendment of the Penal Code concerning the Criminalization of Offences against Sacred Values (Draft Law) due to its illegitimate and excessive restrictions on freedom of expression.
ARTICLE 19’s analysis highlights three critical problems with the Draft Law. First, the Draft Law seeks to impose broad restrictions on freedom of expression which go beyond what is permitted under international law, in particular by seeking to protect “sacred values” and “symbols” that do not enjoy protection under international law. Second, the Draft Law is conceptually flawed as it is written in vague terms, despite providing a detailed list of sacred symbols. The nature of the proposal leaves the provisions of the Draft Law open to extensive and overly broad interpretation.
Third, ARTICLE 19 observes that the Draft Law runs contrary to the growing global consensus amongst states and UN human rights bodies themselves who have agreed that prohibitions of defamation of religions and protection of symbols and beliefs are not only contrary to guarantees of freedom of expression, but are also counterproductive and prone to being abused against the religious minorities that they purport to protect.
ARTICLE 19 argues that if adopted, the Draft Law would represent a serious setback to democratic transition in Tunisia and a blow to Tunisians who had suffered enormously from censorship and restrictions on their freedom of speech under Ben Ali regime. It will also send an entirely wrong message to a democratic community and to activists and human rights defenders around the world who have worked tirelessly to expose the challenges posed by prohibitions of blasphemy or defamation, denigration or insult to religions and similar concepts. Freedom of expression is critical to the realisation of other human rights in Tunisia, including the right to freedom of religion and the right to equality and non-discrimination. The regression in standards that would result from the enactment of this Draft Law would threaten protection of all human rights, and potentially endanger democratic transition in the country.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Tunisian Constituent Assembly to reject the Draft Law and refrain from any attempts to introduce similar measures in the future. We urge the Constituent Assembly to continue the review of the domestic legislation on freedom of expression and bring it in line with international standards in respective areas.
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